Backyard fires a burning issue at Orangeville Council Monday

June 23, 2016   ·   0 Comments

Backyard firepit use was a hot topic at Orangeville council Monday night.

The gallery was packed full of passionate citizens who were both for and against the practice of enjoying a bonfire on their personal properties. Mayor Jeremy Williams explained to all in the gallery that the purpose of the evening was to conduct “a listening exercise.” Council was trying to make a decision that would be in the best interests of all.

The review of the regulatory bylaw was opened as a result of complaints received last summer concerning the use of a popular local restaurant’s wood-fired pizza oven.

The evening started with Lynn Richards taking the podium to educate everyone about the impact to personal health of those who conduct open-air wood burning. Ms. Richards, who has a background in public health, shared that wood burning produces particulate matter. Particulate matter can get into the eyes and lungs. Short-term effects include lung disease and asthma, while longer-term consequences could lead to cancer and increased rates of adult diabetes.

Newly appointed Orangeville fire chief Ron Morden advised that backyard fires in Ontario are not allowed unless your specific municipality has a bylaw permitting them. The Ontario Fire Code allows for small contained fires used for cooking purposes. Any fires must have a municipal permit, burn only clear dry wood, and have readily accessible fire prevention tools such as a bucket of water or garden hose in close proximity. Fires must not be created during long periods of dry weather or in intensified areas that contain a multiple dwellings or a townhouse structure. Sensitive receptor areas dictate that fires must be 250 feet from the property line of hospitals, homes for the aged, or any town-owned property. (arenas, parks). Chief Morden said the plan is to have the fee for permits rise from $20 to $40 annually and burn times cut from 15 hours a day to between 6 and 11 p.m.

Councillor Sylvia Bradley, chair of Council’s Outdoor Burning Committee, said the new bylaw is proposing an incentive program to encourage people to switch to gas or propane units for outdoor burning. The program would be in place for two years and property owners would get a $50 grant and have the $40 burn permit waived if they converted from wood-burning.

In a statement to the Citizen, Ms.Bradley advised, “This is not a Back Yard Wood Burning issue.  This is a Clean Air initiative.  People have the right to clean air and smoke does not recognize property lines.  We have a responsibility as a society to ensure people can breathe and to protect our environment.  At the same time, families can still enjoy a safe and clean backyard fire using a gas or propane fire unit.”

in an impressive speech, Sara Anderson addressed council concerning her petition which was signed by over 1,500 residents. Beyond seeking signatures, the document also required individuals to provide insightful comments about backyard fires in a general way. These comments were then put into a word cloud, which essentially documents large volumes of inputs and identifies key sentiments.

The fire burning petition mentioned “fires” and “family” the most times. The five concerns of the majority were “favorite family activity, unnecessary, one less thing to do outdoors, moved to Orangeville in the first place for fires, and taxpayers should be able to do this. Urging Council to “seriously consider this petition,” she compared the 3,000 signatures to the 3,000 residents who voted in the last election. The gallery broke out in spontaneous applause, showing the room’s majority was clearly in favour of the continued practice of allowing backyard bonfires.

Councillor Scott Wilson said he was against “opening this as a committee in the first place,” adding that he would not be supporting a change to the existing fire-burning practices.

“There has got to be a better way to make the majority happy,” he said, opposing “taking away perhaps the oldest form of family entertainment in the world.” He also enjoyed applause from the gallery.

Councillor Don Kidd offered a different view. “We must be sensitive to those with breathing difficulties.”

The Mayor summed things up nicely by sharing that the exercise is about listening. “The committee will go back and some more work”

Former Orangeville Fire Chief Andy Macintosh was also on hand to share his feelings on best practices for outdoor burning.

Involved in fire protection for over 30 years, he advised that based on his experience and understanding of the issues, the proposed bylaw was “unenforceable.”

The passionate fire professional explained that most incidents are in the evening when fire protection is provided by volunteers. He predicted that complaints would be over 1,000 per year, compared with 12 currently. The volunteers would be overwhelmed and the fire protection budget would need to increase by $400,000 annually.

Mr. Macintosh suggested the town would be best off leaving the bylaw as is. “The current bylaw may not be perfect, but it is enforceable.”

Asked later what the next steps were, committee chair Bradley responded: “The committee will reconvene and discuss Council’s input and comments.  We’ve already had a public session and another resident session to gauge public input.  We’ll then bring it back to Council for approval hopefully at the July 18th meeting.”

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